TIFF Review: ‘Loving’ Is Gorgeously Understated With Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton Shining

Loving

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

loving2016 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The sentiments behind this oft-quoted bible passage are beautifully conveyed in Jeff Nichols‘ new film, aptly titled “Loving.” In one of the more authentic depictions of true, eternal love ever put to screen, a couple’s love is put to the test. But as 1 Corinthians 13 and this touching film teach us, love always perseveres.

Loving” draws its title from the name of the couple at the heart of this film. Based on their real-life experiences, it follows the legal battle endured by Richard and Mildred Loving surrounding their unlawful interracial marriage in 1950s Virginia. After many years fighting the law – including periods of jail time – theirs became a high profile case that eventually reached the Supreme Court and changed the anti-miscegenation laws. Throughout their struggle however, they remained true to themselves, each other and their unwavering love.

The obvious love shared between Richard and Mildred wields cumulative power in this moving drama. In the quiet opening scene, Mildred sits with Richard on their front porch to reveal that she’s pregnant. The news fills them with elated joy. Like any other regular couple, it marks a high point of their lives. Directed with understated grace, it is one of several precious moments to come, highlighting the simplicity of their lives.

Indeed, as emphasized by the selfless, lived-in performances by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, we are reminded that Richard and Mildred were two ordinary people whose only crime was love. Although they became reluctant heroes of the Civil Rights movement, they remained humble and devoted to each other and their family. And as we watch them laugh over a home-cooked meal with friends, or curl up on the couch to watch TV, we don’t need David Wingo‘s uplifting score to relate to their simple pleasures.

At once hopeful and solemn, their modesty brilliantly sets the tone for the film. Even when the plot makes a somewhat uncomfortable transition to rousing courtroom drama territory, the focus never strays from the actors’ effortless chemistry. Though the film is directed by Jeff Nichols, it really belongs to Negga and Edgerton.

Indeed, the Best Actor and Best Actress races certainly have worthy candidates in Edgerton and Negga. The former is remarkably naturalistic as he disappears into the role of naïve, uncomplicated Richard. A far cry from his affected Bostonian impersonation which drew the ire of critics last year. And equally outstanding is his co-star Negga, whose beautifully subtle and intricate performance is bound to attract more great roles in the future. Together, their total command of the screen is such that even Jeff Nichols regular Michael Shannon seems out-of-place when he shows up in the last act.

Loving will certainly be a standout of the fall movie season and a deserving Best Picture contender (and likely Best Original Screenplay as well). For a biopic it is uncommonly naturalistic, while also representing the civil rights drama at its least “angry”. The pacing may therefore too leisurely at times, but in its lack of fist-shaking spectacle, “Loving” delivers one of the more persuasive arguments for the folly of racism. Furthermore, it reminds us that true love really is blind. Or at the very least, color blind.

“Loving” opens in select theaters November 4, 2016 and is distributed by Focus Features.

GRADE: (★★★)

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About Shane Slater

Shane is a passionate cinephile and Tomatometer-approved film critic residing in Kingston, Jamaica. When he's not watching or writing about film, he spends much of his time wishing he lived in a big city. Shane is an avid world traveler and loves attending film festivals. He is a member of the African-American Film Critics Association.